Choosing Your Dog

Which Yap is Right for You
Are You the Perfect Match for Any Dog?

The easy part is deciding you want a dog. For many, probably too many, the next part serves to be the only part. After a pragmatic discussion over coat (typically filled with misinformation over which dogs shed most and how they shed) and how large we are willing to tolerate, they are likely to end up with the next dog that marginally fulfills those minimal requirements and crosses their path, whether that is a "free puppies" sign on the side of the road, the local shelter or a breeder advertising in the local paper.

As much as coat or size, if not more, temperament will figure into the total living experience you enjoy with your dog. A foolhardy choice will leave you with only more difficult choices, give the dog up to a shelter or give away to someone else who likely will have the same problems? Regardless of the source of your dog, you should take the time to SCREEN yourself much as a responsible rescue, breeder or shelter might.

Consider the following, as well as referring to Caring for Your Dog: Transition and Beyond:

1) Where will your dog be during the day? Will it have regular access to exercise (potty)? Some dogs are asked to restrain themselves for up to 10-12 hours a day. This can lead to destructive behaviors as well as a loss of housetraining as the end result. DigitalDog recommends that your dog not be left for more than 4 hours ROUTINELY without an opportunity for a visit and potty break. Leaving a dog outside in a fenced yard can be risky. Tying/chaining is never a responsible option. Lots of options can help from utilizing an exercise pen and an open crate to keep a dog safe but properly confined while you are out, to utilizing a pet sitter to allow your dog a break and needed interaction during your work day. Other products like puppy pads (newspapers still work as to old towels) for small dogs and puppies provide a great option especially when combined with the exercise pen and crate for housetraining. Your cratetraining questions can be answered by DigitalDog with our Cratetraining Guide combined with our Housetraining Guide, you have a complete and highly effective (not a failure in over 20 years) method for accomplishing this critical component to domestic bliss.

2) Where will your dog sleep? Your dog will be quietest if sleeping near you. This may be crated in your room or nearby. Dogs love to be part of the goings on, so keeping them in the hub of your household helps keep the peace. Dogs also love comfort too, so a comfortable sleeping arrangement (with a blanket or pad in their crate) can be helpful.

3) Do you feel comfortable with the process of cratetraining and housetraining? With puppies this is critical and with adults or juveniles it is highly recommended to make the transition period less stressful for you, them and potentially other members of your family. Again, DigitalDog offers two guides Cratetraining and Housetraining as a complete method with tips, suggestions and theory, that have proven very effective.

4) Do you have access to a training professional or highly experienced friend? Some types of dogs and/or less knowledgable owners require a more experienced trainer to help them achieve their potential and be "good dogs". Regardless, having access to classes and activities will make life with your dog more fun. Now would be the time to investigate trainers and classes and other resources (like dog friendly parks and more) in your area. You might want to start by visiting the Association of Pet Dog Trainers for their list of trainers in your area. These trainers are simply members of a club (there is no requirement to join except pay a membership fee) but they do agree to precepts of positive training techniques. Even so, thoroughly screen the trainer(s) you seek to work with, talk to others who have trained with them and contact local pet professionals (like your vet, groomer and shelter) to see if they can offer more information and experience or suggestions. Options like classes offered by PetsMart are generally not as sound a choice since the experience of the trainer may be very minimal with their only dog training being the result of canned videos. This "choreographed" approach doesn't allow for individual needs and personalities of the dog.

5) In all honesty, how much time will your dog be with you each day? Less time means less physical and mental stimulation for the dog. Having a great time with your dog doesn't have to take alot of time nor does it have to be limited to sitting on the couch sharing some potatoe chips! If you don't know how to play with your dog, or dog doesn't seem to know how to play or you just want some ideas check out DigitalDog's Guide to Play .

6) Do you know type? Many people think different types of dogs are all the same underneath their varying sizes and wrappers. Not so! A dog's history and its selection process for breeding, it's genetics, leave it predisposed for behavior as well as appearance. So the Terriers (even those that are now Toy breeds) will generally offer a rather different personality and behaviors than a Herding dog or a Retriever. Add to that the individual life and experiences and the variations become even greater! So first, consider the question of whether a Mixed Breed Dog or Purebred is the perfect fit for you. If you aren't clear on what advantages each offers, it's impossible to make the best decision. DigitalDog's Breed Profiles also include general information in the group sections and will be valuable to someone sorting out all the purebred options. Keep in mind, that every advantage available through having a purebred companion can be achieved with a mixed breed one as well.

Now the really tough questions!

7) How much time do you have to dedicate to educating yourself and training your dog? Many confident, demanding breeds will need knowledgable handling to establish boundaries, routine and other rules of the game without creating fear and resentment. Dogs left without these basic skills can become terrors because their puppy games become the springboard for more dangerous behavior as adults. Or if treated roughly, these dogs as they learn to distrust and feel anxiety will be more likely to address problems with their own methods. Breeds and types of dog that seem too cute and cuddly and charming can often be indulged to the point of becoming little tyrants. Being willing to educate yourself and watch for the things others do that work! If you don't have the time to dedicate to it, don't get the dog! Most dogs would benefit from more socialization. Socialization is the amalgamation of the experiences a dog has had. A dog that has been kept in a garage its entire life (or backyard or home) will generally have difficulty coping when you take it to a park. So, while they are young (generally under 2 years) it is of great benefit to give them the opportunity to see lots of interesting things and make the experience fun! DigitalDog offers a Socialization Program through a partnership with Pet Wear as the first of their training assistance programs. This program will help with assessing your dog, planning the elements of socializing as well as training help for the handler! After all, the effort is pointless if the experience isn't pleasant for the dog. Another, and better option, is to take advantage of local socialization classes with the guidance of a knowledgable trainer.

8) What is your tolerance for clean? Those wonderful shaggy dogs are typically wonderfully messy! Hairy feet pick up leaves and debris, just getting a drink of water can be a trip to the logflume! While everyone focuses on shedding, with the assumption being that shorter coats are less of an issue, this is not the case. Everything that grows hair, sheds it. Curly coated breeds are more inclined to mat and tangle rather than have it hit the floor and long, rough coats shed twice a year profusely! Smooth coated breeds can vary markedly and some shed much more than others and all the time. Additionally, stress can induce shedding, so just the experience of meeting you for an interview could be enough to give a "false" read on the amount that a smooth coated dog might shed. Keep in mind that as living with virtually anything requires some compromise and commitment when making your choice. Additionally, the more hair, the more time committed to keeping it in order. Considering whether you will groom your dog yourself (this includes brushing, ear cleaning, nail clipping and emptying anal glands) or seek a professional can also be a concern for someone on a budget. If you would like to do it yourself, seek the advice of the staff at your veterinary clinic, most would be more than willing to show you how to safely address all aspects of this critical care. If more information would be helpful, check out DigitalDog's Grooming Information for the most general overview.

9) Preparation and Special Needs Are you prepared for all the demands that can evolve? What if you dog develops a chronic health problem? What about the day to day expenses from food (which everyone tends to think of as the only need) to even basics like an id tag or replacing a lost collar? What about anything around the house that the dog may damage? Professional grooming? Will you need help with things like cleaning ears or trimming toenails? What about when you go out of town? Can your dog go with you or will you be paying for kenneling, boarding or a pet sitter? Clearly the financial demands deserve some consideration for your sake as well as your dog's.

10) How much energy do you have for your dog's energy? Some breeds and types are absolute whirlwinds, others are more sedate. Some tend to be extremely challenging as youngsters but then mature at an even keel. Virtually every puppy will be much more energetic than the same dog as an adult (this is probably not accurate for many Terriers! They often keep their energy levels). Many of giant breeds (especially those of Mastiff extraction) tend to be more laid back and easy going (think Great Dane and Newfoundland) than smaller breeds. Even if you are looking at a mixed breed, it will likely have a personality and energy level similar to that of one of its parents. Being willing to spend time seeking activities that you and your dog can enjoy together doesn't have to be exhausting! From Pet Therapy to Search and Rescue and lots of stuff in between, there are some great endeavors to consider. Digital Dog offers information about lots of options with GreatDogs. You'll have a blast!

11) What's age got to do with it? So many people automatically search for that puppy. The reasons vary... we want it to bond with us, we want the experience of raising a puppy, our child wants a puppy, we don't want someone else's problems, and on it goes. Certainly, puppies are charming, delightful, fun and loving... and they HAVE to be! Otherwise no one would take the time and effort required to make them into dogs someone could live with! Unless there is someone home virtually all the time who can tend to the first year (more for the larger breeds) of puppy development, everyone, is better off looking for a juvenile or adult dog. Consider, an older dog has greater focus and can handle longer training periods, they have better physical control and housetrain much more quickly (and reliably). Additionally critical behavior tendencies like getting along with other pets and children can be assessed readily in older dogs. As a final note, let's just say those Italian leather loafers and your wonderful antique ottoman would probably be safer too? Check out, and for information on great dogs, regardless of age, available nationwide or in your local shelter or rescue.

12) Where to go? For many, the Animal Shelter is a source of woe. Regardless of your intent, it is difficult for anyone considering themselves a dog lover to go to a shelter without walking out with a new roommate. Obviously, this doesn't always result in the best choice. Dogs in shelters are more likely to have been recently exposed to disease and less likely to have a health history with them. A Rescue can offer options to you and to dogs in the shelter. When you adopt from a rescue (who typically assesses a dog prior to placement physically and mentally as well as getting its vet care up to date), they will then have a vacancy for another rescue. Breeders ideally, offer a careful bred puppy (sometimes adults) that is the product of exceptional parents that the breeder knows well. Unfortunately, many breeders fall short of the ideal. How can you tell the difference? Education helps.. but the quick and dirty litmus test might be, how quickly are they willing to let you have one of their dogs? Someone who is very slow to commit to you without getting fully informed about you and your life and your lifestyle and ability to care for the animal (emotionally, physically and financially), in other words, the one that puts you through the Spanish Inquisition and would seemingly run off most puppy buyers, that is very likely the one you WANT to work with. Not only will you be confident that you can deal with the challenges of raising the pup but you can be sure that they will always be there as a resource for that dog if you should ever fail. If you are even considering using a Pet Shop, PLEASE read DigitalDog's Guide to the Problems with ALL Pet Shops FIRST. Other guides from DigitalDog include Considerations in Adopting from a Shelter , Important Notes about Adopting from a Rescue and Evaluating a Breeder . All of these offer solid information and tips on working with these sources for your new companion.

13) What is your history of commitment? Ultimately, someone who is committed to their dog will find ways to use the resources they have to keep their dogs well and safe for their lifetime. Less commitment is what fills the shelters with dogs who aren't housetrained, get out of the fence, had puppies, owners don't have time for, or they moved and the new home didn't accept pets. All the questions above matter for nothing if the commitment is not there. Your dog will likely live to be in its teens. We guarantee your life will change in that period of time. You will probably have a new car, new home and in this day and age, a new spouse during the life of your dog. In contrast to those choices (that one expects you made carefully) the dog deserves similar consideration. If you have any doubts, consider volunteering with a local shelter or rescue prior to bringing anyone home. You can also help by becoming a foster home for a rescue group. This needed service is generally serving as a temporary home for a dog that has no where else to go. While you care and perhaps help train them, they are able to buy time for an organization (like a shelter or rescue) to find a permanent placement.

Ultimately the choice of a companion can transcend a myriad of poor decisions if the family is determined to provide the dog with the support and care they need. Even so, while commitment and sacrifice are wonderful to hear about, a dog is happy if their people are happy and the easiest path to that end is to find a companion that is well-suited to the lifestyle and schedule you want.

If DigitalDog can help with more questions, feel free to join us on the DigitalDog Forums.